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Cold-weather kayaking

Just recently purchased a kayak in the beginning of the summer, and am hoping to continue to get use out of it before ponds/lakes freeze for the winter.  So - I'm looking for advice, tips, recommendations on the best way to safely paddle when the air temperature is between 40-50 degrees...what kind of equipment do I need?


Off the top of my head: a wet suit like the ones like the insane surfers wear when it's snowing or the ones that water skiers wear in the winter here in Florida.

ecmelhorn, air temperature is a factor in what to wear, however, more important is what the water temperature will be. It is important that if you find yourself swimming, you don't become hypothermic, even if you are able to get out of the water quickly. If you are sea kayaking in a closed boat with a small cockpit and a good spray skirt, a dry top is useful. These can be worn over synthetic insulation layers(NO COTTON) or wool. 

Wetsuits are primarily useful if you are in whitewater in situations where you will be wet. They need to be wet to function as insulation. Surfing or waterski wetsuits are not cut the same way that paddling wet suits are. Remember, you are sitting down, not standing up. You also need more freedom of movement for your arms.

As well, have extra layers in a dry bag. A waterproof and warm paddling hat is important, as there is a great deal of heat lost from your noggin.

Finish off with a good pair of paddling booties.

If your kayak is more the recreational or sit on top style rather than the Greenland style, a dry suit may be the way to go. They are expensive, but used ones are often on sale in the fall from rental companies and outfitters.

The bottom line, is that for kayaking or canoeing, always have enough and the proper type of clothing, to survive a swim.

Water tight gloves

Call this guy.  Maybe he can help you. Wim Hof

Callahan said:

Water tight gloves

 Thanks Callahan, I had neglected to talk about hand covering in my response. 

Some sort of hand covering is important for many paddlers. I wear gloves infrequently in winter. Though there are water proof gloves for recreational use, for paddling, water will always find it's way into the interior. A product called "pogies" are extremely helpful, as they keep your hands warm AND allow you to quickly use your fingers to free up a zipper, or operate your camera. For kayaking, make sure you have drip rings on the paddle. These stop most of the water running down your shaft from the blade that isn't in the water.

Remember the paddler's adage, "You will get wet". Dress accordingly.

Dry suit

Erich, What would you recommend for a open top kayak that is not designed for a skirt, although I would think someone could get it custom made.   

But, if you were using the boat on open water and or salt water, here in the PNW, would a dry suit be the best?  Or a wet suit?  I have a 7mm semi-dry wet suit for diving, but like you said, I don't think I could paddle in it.  I did look at non diving dry suits, something akin to a working clothing, I don't remember the company name right now, but it was one of those water proof nylon suits, I don't remember what it had for feet, but the hand and neck were rubber / ?? seals.  Not to expensive at around $350 or so.   I do now that you would have to have something warm on under this, with out, you may be dry, but you would get cold real fast in 45 degree water!  :) 


Hi Wolfman,

I am not sure what a semi-dry wet suit is and 7mm is going to be much too thick for paddling. Semi-dry suits for paddling have a neoprene, rather than a latex neck gasket. They are more comfortable but in the event of an upset, some water can enter through the neck. Kokatat makes good paddling dry suits, both in the Tropos fabric and Goretex. The Tropos is lighter weight, and less expensive, but doesn't breathe as well. You can often find them used, either online, or through NWOC in Seattle or Kayak Academy in Issaquah. The problem with wet suits, is they need to be wet to insulate well. That means submersing yourself before you go paddling in cold weather. While some of us here paddle in wet suits(farmer johns) in summer, most of us paddling whitewater are in dry suits. Winter open water kayaking involves dry tops and spray skirts. Non-breathable dry suits are very hot, but can be had used for perhaps $100. They are not very common anymore. 

I am not sure by what you mean by an open top kayak? Can you clarify? Do you mean a recreational kayak with a large cockpit, or something that resembles a canoe?



Eeich, The boat I am talking about is the Bootlegger that I posted in the "Getting back into Canoes" thread.  It's actually designed as a double kayak with a single opening, but I would probably use it mostly as a single, I'm a big guy. 

I'll do some research on dry suite for paddling vs. diving and used is great if I can find something that fit's me! :)

One of the reasons I was looking at a sealed suit was so I could free dive in the same suit.  No tank or tank connections, no BCD, just mask, hood, gloves, some weight, and flippers.  I though it could be fun and a easy way to collect some dinner.  I have grand plans of doing the inside passage up to Alaska someday.  We'll see. :D 


I responded to your post on the other thread about the the Bootlegger. As far as a suit goes, there are differences between paddling dry suits and diving dry suits. The latter are designed for more pressure. I'm not sure if they are ever made from breathable material as paddling dry suits are. I have only had experience with diving dry suits that are not breathable. Paddling dry suits are not made for total immersion. Even with latex gaskets on the wrists and neck, and with latex or breathable booties, they are designed to be comfortable paddling, and to keep the wearer dry bouncing down a rapid. 

The hard part with any boat(and a lot of outdoor gear, IMHO) is that you can read the specs, talk to the sales guy, and even speak with someone who has used it, but until you actually paddle it yourself, you won't know if it is the boat for you. My son loves his Outrage, I find it a bit wet, and mostly because I weigh more. Building a boat is a lot of work. If you can't try it before you build one, I would look for something else.

May 10, 2021
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